Austral Bricks celebrates first all-women leadership team

Brickworks leaders Josie and Cinzia are both on the HIA Building Women organizing committee.

With a host of women filling leadership roles at Austral Bricks Victoria, the company is leading the way for female representation in the construction industry.
For the first time, Austral Bricks Victoria has an all-female leadership team, paving the way for future generations of women to excel in the construction and manufacturing industries. Let’s meet the team and learn more about the choices and challenges they’ve faced during their careers.

Josie Costanzo, General Manager, Austral Bricks Victoria.

What did you want to be when you grew up? 
At school, I wanted to be a police officer, and then a sports scientist.
What did you study? 
I studied sports science for six months but it wasn’t for me. I switched to accounting, then took some time out to travel. I worked in finance in London and travelled around Europe and the Middle East for four years before coming back to finish off my degree.
How did your career path unfold?
Before I became General Manager three years ago, I’d always worked in finance. My first role in manufacturing was for Tip Top Bakeries at George Weston Foods. I stayed there seven years before moving to Schweppes. I joined Austral Bricks as Financial Controller for Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.
Were there any lightbulb moments/events that changed your career trajectory?
My goal when I joined Austral Bricks was to become CFO. Now I’ve been in this job for three years and love it; I can’t imagine going back to finance. I’ve always had an open mind, but I’ve had a plan as well - I like having goals. I like to know what I’m working towards, what we’re trying to build. That’s what I love about this role: it just keeps getting bigger and every day comes with a new challenge.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman in a male-dominated industry? 
Tip Top was the first place I’d worked that was male dominated. I was always the only female in each senior team. It never bothered me but there are a lot of challenges that come with being a woman in a male-dominated industry. The opportunities just aren’t there. It was similar when I first joined Austral Bricks, but the company is working on this and we have a lot more women in leadership roles now than we did three years ago.
Has the culture shifted at Austral Bricks since you joined?
Yes, and a real sign that things are changing is the willingness of men to come forward and speak up when they’re not happy with how they’re being treated. What was acceptable just isn’t anymore, and it clearly bothers the men as much as it would the women.
What advice would you give other women striving to make it in a male-dominated industry?
Be yourself and don’t try to do what you think a man would do. Always be authentic because if you’re not, people see straight through it anyway.
How have you managed to juggle the other areas of your life with career?
I have two children aged five and seven, and it’s a juggle. But when I’m home, I’m home and I do switch off. My husband has been working part-time for the past two years. Before that, with both of us working full-time, we reached the point that something needed to change.
What do you like about your current role and working at Austral?
We’re very inclusive, family-friendly and supportive. That comes from the top, from our Managing Director, Lindsay Partridge AM. We really try to live and breathe those values. I wouldn’t work for a company that isn’t aligned with those values.

Cinzia Camorani, State Sales Manager, Austral Bricks Victoria.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was at primary school in Rome, Italy, I thought I would be a primary school teacher.
What did you study at university?
I completed a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in Political Science.
How did your career path unfold?
My career started with a couple of stumbles. Graduating from university during the ‘recession we had to have’ [the famous quote by former prime minister Paul Keating], large corporates were not engaging in graduate programs, and my degree qualification was working against me for entry-level roles. I fought for my first job by offering to take the role $2 per hour below the advertised rate.
Were there any lightbulb moments/events that changed your career trajectory?
I had acquired some administrative and account-keeping skills in my first job, which enabled me to get a foot in the door – literally – at a company called United Doormakers, a family-owned business specialising in fire doors. Six months in, I expressed an interest in estimating because I had discovered I was a natural at reading plans and door schedules. I was promoted to an internal sales role. That was my first foray into the construction industry and I’ve never looked back.
What do you like about your current role and working at Austral/Brickworks?
I enjoy building strong long-term relationships with our customers. My role allows me to contribute to the development of others, and to develop strategies to deliver successful business outcomes. What I really love about Brickworks is that our leaders do as they say.
Have you faced any challenges in this industry as a woman?
Small hurdles along the way, the kind you laugh about. Like going into a major customer negotiation with a male team member and the customer assuming that he was the lead. I’ve felt well supported and I was lucky to also have a strong female role model and mentor early in my career. I’ve overcome any challenges I did face with a sense of humour and a determination to prove why I’m the best person for the job, irrespective of gender.
What advice would you give other women striving to make it in a male-dominated industry?
Don’t ruminate on the negatives. You probably don’t realise that while you might be having a bad day at the office, your resilience is inspiring others.

Michelle O’Connor, Plant Manager, Austral Bricks Victoria.

What did you want to be when you grew up? 
I had no idea. When I did work experience in Year 10, I was in an office and then I knew for sure I never wanted a fully office-based job. From there I took a teacher’s advice to just study what interests me. That's how I chose my subjects at high school, my degree at uni [Bachelor of Engineering (Materials) and Bachelor of Science (Materials Science and Chemistry)] and eventually my graduate job at Austral Bricks.
How did your career path unfold? 
After my studies I didn't want to go into research, so when I saw an ad for engineering graduates with management potential at Austral Bricks, I figured that suited me pretty well. I joined in 2014.
What do you like about your current role at Austral/Brickworks?
It’s busy, it’s challenging and every day is different.
Have you faced and overcome any challenges in this industry as a woman?
Of course, but the good thing about starting at Wollert [the site where Michelle works] is there have been so many graduates over the years you need to prove yourself regardless of gender.
What advice would you give other women striving to make it in a male-dominated industry?
You don't have to fit into a man's world, there are already plenty of men in it. Just be yourself and appreciate that women bring something different and sometimes refreshing to the table.

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